28 March 2013


Enough morosity about Kiba.

Strafe and I are headed to CT to teach this weekend!

27 March 2013

Vision Redux

Yesterday i was feeling pretty optimistic about continuing to run Kiba, I even took her out and started working on a new verbal command, which will eventually signal her to "unlock" from the obstacle she is heading for. For now I am just working on it as a "recall at all costs" cue, so I am trying to break it down and just put her in a stationary position near obstacles, and then say the new verbal and move away and she runs to me and we play with the toy. I want this to be a very high value verbal. I don't use a lot of verbals on course, so this should be pretty easy to use, it will stand out.

But then I put her in the crate to go teach class. Because their dinner would be delayed, I dropped a few treats in front of her as a snack. The treats are similar in color to the mat in her crate. She could not locate the treats :( She knew I had dropped them, and she was sniffing all around her own feet, I saw her make a quick visual sweep of the front of her crate (it's not a huge crate), then go back to sniffing around her feet. She could not differentiate the outline of the treats (they were approximately an inch long, hard biscuit type treats), against the similar colored background of the mat. They were about a foot in front of her. I had to point at them with my finger for her to locate them. Now, I only gave her about 10 seconds or so of searching before I felt bad and pointed them out, but what hungry dog takes 10 seconds to find treats that are 12 inches in front of her face? Poor little thing!

So I think for now I will begin to track what I think are vision related issues with her. The trial I want to enter her in opens on the 9th of April. So I have until the 8th to decide whether I should or should not enter her.

So far, her history of "symptoms" looks like this (some are new-ish but most have always been around, just are worse now than they were before):
Staring at cars "on the horizon" but not up close near a road
Staring at other things far away - my neighbor in the field adjacent to ours, in his tractor
Taking off early for jumps, sometimes with a stutter step beforehand
Locking onto obstacles very early
Difficulty judging obstacles and tracking my position at the same time
Inability to locate treats on a similar colored background
Wrapping uprights in a different manner when turning left vs right - tilting head inward on the right-hand turn to get a better look at the upright.
Prefers to be farther away from me on walks than my other dogs, despite lots of training to the contrary (she prefers to be 50+ feet away, but still within sight)
Occasionally trips stepping onto the edge of a raised surface
ETA: In the opthalmologist's office, Kiba was standing still with her right eye VERY close to a piece of furniture. Like 1 mm close. I could not see any of my other dogs standing with their eye THAT CLOSE to something, and I pointed it out and the assistant also thought it a little odd.
And another one I realized today was probably related - Kiba has always been really upset when I am playing tug with her and a toy whips back and hits her in the face. I always chalked it up to her being sensitive, but maybe it is because she has trouble seeing the toy up close??

All of these things combined led me to believe she was far-sighted, and she is. Now her diagnosis says it is not very bad, but her behavior leads me to believe that for HER, it is not "normal" sight. It was also suggested to me that the lens hardening of a middle-aged dog may make it seem worse to her, and that is certainly a real possibility. As of today, it is impossible to simply ask Kiba, "hey, is your vision worse than it used to be?"

I don't tend to think, at this time, that she is a danger to herself running agility, but I have to keep in mind that she is a really fast little dog, and a mistake running at 5 to 7 YPS can really hurt. So far she has not had any catostrophic crashes.

You can see I am not fully decided on this issue. That's OK. That's part of the reason I have a blog - to blather into cyberspace and record things.

26 March 2013

What does Kiba see?

Well my suspicions were dead on, although the result is more minor than I expected. The opthalmologist checked for any problems in the pressure, looked for cataracts, etc, and found nothing clinically significant (she has a minor cyst and minor lens hardening, both nothing that should cause an issue and normal findings in a dog who is 8 years old). So he did a retinoscopy and found that she is far-sighted, it is fairly minor, it is on both sides, but the right is worse than the left. It shows up like this on my paperwork:
-1 Diopter Refraction OD
-0.5 Diopter Refraction OS

It was his opinion that this is not all that abnormal and some dogs will not really present with takeoff problems at this level of far-sightedness, but obviously some do. It just depends on the dog's reaction to it. Kiba's reaction seems to be "lock onto the jump early while she can still see it clearly, and then leap for it".

So what does this mean? Well, it means Kiba does indeed have trouble seeing things clearly once she gets up close. It means the way I have been trying to run her is stepping in the right direction. It also means her vision is not "terrible", so I think I am comfortable enough to give running her a shot for a little bit longer. I feel that she should at least reasonably be able to not smash into things in a dangerous fashion. Because I wanted to wait for the results of this test, I have pulled her from the next trial, and I am not trialing again until after Tryouts. I think this is probably good for me, since I can think through some theory on running Kiba, how to avoid letting her "lock on" to the off course obstacles, and maybe even teach her a verbal that means "unlock" and look for me. It will also allow me to strongly focus on running Strafe as we approach Tryouts. Then I will put Kiba back into trialing at the end of May, I think I will give both AKC and USDAA a shot, and if we fail miserably for a few months then I will go ahead and let her retire. I am never one to beat a dead horse, I am happy to move on.

I am glad that my observations of my dog's behavior led me to the correct answer. And I am glad that I paid the money to confirm it, and I don't have to wonder if she has a fixable eye disease!

25 March 2013

Snowed all day today

Kiba's eye appointment is tomorrow morning at 9am. I'm hoping for a resolution one way or the other. Can she run? or can't she?

24 March 2013

random photos sunday

I have noticed that with my own increased fitness... more activity = I'm hungry all the time. I wonder if the dogs feel the same way? Of course they never get to control their own food!

Even though sometimes they try by giving me a funny face at dinnertime ;)

Tomorrow we will probably not get to hike due to the impending winter/spring storm consisting of rain/snow/ice/whatever. Last time they predicted this weather, it fizzled, and we got like 5 minutes of a rain shower followed by nothing. So we'll see.

Tuesday is Kiba's eye exam. Coming up quickly but not quickly enough.

I ordered pictures from AKC Nationals, thinking sadly that it might be Kiba's last :(
We're still waiting on our videos that I ordered. Hopefully the quality is OK, some of the ones I've seen posted are pretty far away and a bit blurry, so no promises there, but it'll be better than no videos at all!

23 March 2013

Anxiously Await

I know it seems a bit odd, but I'm anxious to get Kiba's eye exam out of the way. I have a hard time with an uncertain future type of situation. I feel like I can't plan for the year. Can Kiba attend USDAA Cynosport Games? Well, of course she is already qualified so she CAN but if her vision is quite poor then I don't think it is FAIR for me to take her. I know I am taking Strafe, of course. I am just not used to having only one dog on whom to focus, for probably 2 years, until my unknown future puppy is old enough to compete!

So if Kiba can no longer safely compete, do I bring Seri back out? Seri has been pretty sound, physically. And she did manage to ge a Team and Steeplechase Q last month. The problem with Seri is that I just can't take her seriously - she is unpredictable and a bit "crazy". She definitely enjoys agility and competing... but I have to balance spending money on trials with her rate of actual qualifying. . . is it worth it to run her and travel with her, if her Q rate is very low? Since my financial situation is variable, a lot of times the answer has to be "no". Also, at trials, Seri is extremely reckless with her body, and I do worry about her re-injuring her wrist or shoulder. I do train her fairly regularly and sometimes she gets to be a demo dog at class or seminars. She has a lot of knowledge, she just has a hard time holding herself together at trials, because they are SO DANGED EXCITING for her.

And of course, now Drifter is retired.

So I find myself with 4 border collies, ages 10, 8, 6, and 2, and only the 2 year old actively competing. This is an odd spot to be in, I think! I am more and more happy with my decision to get a puppy next winter. I will then have dogs at the age of 11, 9, 7, and 3, and by the time the pup is old enough to compete, Strafe will be turning 5 years old. I almost wish I was getting a pup earlier, but I am going to wait for the "right" pup (Strafe's half-sibling) unless something truly extraordinary presents itself before then.

So, on Tuesday, I will make a decision about Kiba's future in agility. And then I may have 3 retired dogs, none of whom are "really old".... if I win a spot for Strafe at Tryouts perhaps I will put that money towards running Seri? Who knows. It's a weird place, mentally, right now! I am so used to having multiple dogs to run. But perhaps I will enjoy trialing only one, since that one is a pretty amazing dog!

PS I found this amusing.

8th of March, mileage on my car (that's about 40.233km)

and yesterday, 22nd March (that's about 45.062 km)

Thanksfully no more long drives for a while. An advantage to only taking one dog to Cynosport would be the ability to fly there!

22 March 2013

From today's hike

I'm so lucky to have such a huge, beautiful park so close to me! Today I took just Strafe and Seri on a nice 4 mile hike. Seri is not in great shape - she's in reasonable "weekend warrior" shape, but nothing like Strafe and Kiba. So now she is sleeping very quietly ;)

21 March 2013

Yeah. My dogs have more coats than I do. These are rainproof with a light fleece lining. Strafe's needs some alteration because the belly strap is too large and he pees on it. Boy dogs!

Kiba goes in for an eye exam on Tuesday. If it is something fixable with surgery we will do it, if not she will retire - I am not going through rounds of contact lenses etc, unless getting them is a whole lot easier than I have heard and am imagining. Her visual issues don't really affect her day to day life very much like my old Freeze dog's did - her ETS was so much more severe. Kiba's is mild, and I only see mild effects, it's just that in agility, mild effects that are slowly getting worse while she's running at 5 to 7 yards every single second... well that's a bit more difficult to manage!

In other news, Strafe's first potential breeding did not pan out, timing wise. There is another potential one coming up soon; we will have to see how that goes. Right now we are refocusing from Nationals to Tryouts. We have another week off from agility, but we are already beginning our hiking and core/rear end strengthening program, because I want to build up to a pretty tough workout by the time late April rolls around, since we will need to back off about 20% as we get into about 10 days before Tryouts so he can peak physically ;)

20 March 2013

Addendum - Kiba

After talking with a couple people, I have decided to take Kiba to have a full eye exam done (hopefully including a retinoscopy) before resuming any agility with her. Hopefully that will tell me whether it is something treatable or just that her vision has gotten so wonky she is having trouble focusing on everything at speed. I highly suspect one eye is worse than the other, due to the way she wraps things differently going left versus right. (this is very obvious when wrapping a jump standard with no bars, so it has nothing to do with jumping, and she has very even muscling on both sides, so it is not that either)

19 March 2013

Nationals - the recap

I intend this post to be fairly short, but since I generally blog in an amorphous stream-of-consciousness style, it may go a bit longer than usual anyway.

Recap of the trip itself, chronological order:
(warning, all photos are crappy ones from my Droid)
Tuesday we left around 8am, hit some traffic and some rain but had no problems. Stopped in Indianapolis and there was some of this:

Wed I woke up around 5:45 and we left Indy around 6:30am, driving through some driving white-out snow conditions off and on for about an hour before it cleared up and was smooth sailing the rest of the way to Tulsa. Where there was promptly more of this:

We rested all evening, but I woke up early Thursday anyway, went to the site around 8 and dropped off crates for ACR then went for a really nice hike in the warm sunshine, where the dogs obliged me by posing on a rock:

Then we went to the airport and picked up our roommate, went back to the site and set up our crates in the stall, and I set up one of ACR's tables that had been dropped off, posted schedules, etc. Then we went grocery shopping and settled in for the event.

I'll cover the dogs' performances after our brief picture journal is finished ;)

The drive home: well I had an extra passenger, a rescue dog from TX who is going to NJ to live with Ria and David from ACR. He's a big dude so I needed my bigger crate set up in the car, meaning it was basically packed to the gills, but we made it work. 

I stopped for gas in Springfield MO and as I pulled up to the pump I heard a funny noise and noticed the tire pressure light come on in my car. Got out, and the back tire was TOTALLY flat. Nice rip/hole in the sidewall. So it ended up getting towed on a flat bed truck to a Wal-mart, who got me a new tire. The dogs were troopers, getting lifted IN THE CAR the entire time - they were all in crates so likely none the wiser as to their strange situations.

Here's the really, really weird part. In 2010 on the way TO Tulsa for AKC Nationals, I found that my one front tire had a slow leak, and I stopped at a Wal-mart to get it fixed. In Springfield MO. THE EXACT SAME WAL-MART. WTF??? Apparently I need to find a new route to and from Tulsa!

After that delay, I got into the hotel really late Monday night (for me, which is like 10:30pm), finally for the first time in an entire week, I slept until my alarm went off, and then got home today around 3pm.


Now for the dogs' recaps.

I'll start with Strafe, because he was a superstar. Friday I entered only him in the warm-up run, figuring a baby/teenage dog could use the ringtime after the long drive. Sure enough, he went jump-faceplant-crash, then ran off his dogwalk, knocked another bar, and SCREAMED at me once. Oh my. But then he cleaned up his act and got 3rd place in Time 2 Beat that afternoon - I did feel he ran a bit tentatively on that run, probably because of me yelling at him for knocking bars in the warm-up. Saturday started out with Jumpers with weaves, and I decided to run slightly conservatively, as in I did not really work my corners that hard, although I did utilize nice strong handling choices in general. He placed 6th with a pretty good time. In Standard I kept changing my mind about my handling, failed to help him with a weak point in his training right now (lateral sends/parallel doubles) and he knocked the front bar off the double. He would have been 4th if he had been clean though. I was still happy with him. Sunday the pressure was on, and I sort of accidentally went really conservative by doing almost all rear crosses in the Hybrid round, I didn't plan that many but somehow found myself doing them. It worked out anyway, as they made him turn REALLY tight and he kept up all his bars for 4th place and securing our spot in the Challenger Round. For that one, I knew we had to go for it, with dogs like Pace, Solar, and Solei breathing fire right down our necks. And we did - unfortunately he slipped and hung himself up really hard on the 2nd weave pole, which cost us precious time. I am pretty sure we would not have won anyway, but I am super proud of him for hanging onto the weaves instead of popping out when that happened, and we were still just a few tenths behind the 2nd place dog, finishing with a very competitive strong 3rd place. All in all, a great debut at AKC Nationals with a dog who is just barely 2 and 1/2 years old!

Now on to Kiba...

I have been blogging for a few months  now about Kiba's vision and jumping. After much thought, I think her vision is having another effect on the way she runs agility as well. I think it is causing us to have off courses that we never would have had previously. I believe Kiba's ETS is caused by her being far-sighted - she can see things far away on the horizon very well - she notices things often before I do. But set her 10 feet from a jump and she has a very hard time keeping the bar up. At speed, I believe she is judging and committing to jumps (and other obstacles) very early, in order to safely negotiate them. As she ages and her vision deteriorates somewhat, I think this is getting to be a stronger behavior. 

The good news: Kiba got 3rd place in T2B with a pretty good run, although I did have to guard the bars a little bit. The bad news: after that Kiba hit the triple in JWW (otherwise would have placed 1st), and then proceeded to have THREE off courses in the following 2 runs. All, I believe, were caused by her attempts to locate, judge, and commit to the jumps properly. I was pretty sad after Round 2 since that put her out of the running for even the Challenger round. I think she was visually distracted by an off course possibility that she didn't realize was there, landed, looked at it, and then when she looked back at me she thought she should back-jump. 

So I have spent the last few days trying to figure out what to do with her. She is 8 years old, physically she is doing fairly well, although Saturday evening she was a little stiff and sore up front, but it worked out pretty quickly after some mobilization by Ria. In general, she is physically fit to continue jumping 16". But it is becoming very difficult for me to run her - I have to change my handling, I am failing more at figuring out how to get her to see the right obstacle, and she is failing more at finding it. She is hitting the spread jumps more and more consistently. And she is getting off courses a LOT more than she did a year or two ago. I do not think most of these issues would be alleviated by moving her to 12" preferred. 

I have not *quite* decided what to do with her, but I also think it is a safety issue - if my dog cannot properly locate me and the correct obstacle on course, she is becoming a bit of a danger to herself, especially at the speed with which she moves around the course. 

For now, i have withdrawn her from the only trial she was entered in. I will have to decide if I will continue to run her in USDAA or not. At least there she is in Performance already so there are no spread jumps. But the courses can be quite difficult, and with her locking onto obstacles earlier and earlier, successfully negotiating those courses may become nigh impossible.

More rumination is required, but right now it is looking like this year may be just for Strafe, with maybe Seri making a few odd appearances here and there.....

PS: I have ordered videos from 4 Legged Flix, so I will post them whenever I get them, but it might be a week or more!

09 March 2013

Pack Day

Today is a day for packing.

So far I have accomplished... um... well I made a list! I am also watching the Crufts agility coverage live, which is entertaining. And I am also going to work my dogs just a little bit (last practice before Nationals!) and go for a nice walk in the warm afternoon. It's going to be a LOT warmer down in Tulsa so it'll be good to get them out in somewhat warm weather for a walk.

Aren't they cute? Kiba poses well for photos but never really looks happy in them.

The reason I have to do most of my packing today is that tomorrow I am teaching a workshop for 4 hours and Monday I am driving up to NJ and back which will take most of the day (final PT check for Kiba, Strafe, and myself before leaving).

They don't always pose perfectly ;) Here Strafe appears to be amazed by the huge fish, while Kiba thinks the ground smells funny.

Alright, off to do some laundry!

07 March 2013

See this pretty snow?

We were predicted to get anywhere from 3 to 10" of snow yesterday.

Amount we got? Well, that looks more like this:

Yep. We got nothing. It snowed a little over night Tuesday, then it rained yesterday morning and washed it away. Then it didn't really rain so much as looked  gloomy and then was really windy all day. It ended up that we cancelled our classes for nothing, but we made the best call we could. WINTER STORM WARNING was all over the place.... oh well. It fizzled.

We are in our last stretch of preparing for Nationals. Yesterday was a full rest day, Kiba got stretched and lasered, Strafe got a quick check. Today we'll go for a nice walk in the park and then take it easy. Tomorrow maybe a very quick jump exercise and a walk and a stretch/laser session again. We leave Tuesday, I am breaking the 18 hour drive into two easy segments of around 8 to 10 hours to help keep them from getting too stiff.

Here's another picture. Our new fleece-lined collars to match the Julius K9 harnesses they wear at AKC trials sometimes. Nice and soft and perfectly matched!

05 March 2013

5 March

Last night I stretched Strafe out and lasered him a little, but overall I was happy with how felt, he does not seem sore from the weekend. Today I set up a simple jumping sequence, just a couple straight lines and pinwheels and 180's. He is really striding out and using himself nicely now, although that is exactly why I think we are getting some bars at trials - he is almost brave enough to leave strides out, but then he chickens out, and that puts him too close to the jump and the bar comes down. I did get him to knock a bar or two in training today, for which I did correct him (promptly, calmly, and fairly!) and he seemed to understand what was going on and improved as he went. We only worked on it for 5 or 10 minutes. I don't want to overdo it with Nationals so close, but I also don't want to go in super concerned about bars!

We also went for a nice walk this morning with all 4 dogs. I was reminded why I hate walking all 4 dogs at the same time on leash. Drifter and Seri just don't always understand the idea of walking down the path together nicely. They are way better than some dogs, but they do kind of wander to the side and then Drifter starts pushing Kiba off the side of the path, etc etc.

04 March 2013


I ran the old man at the trial this past weekend, but he was only entered Friday, and once again he had a mistake that prevented me from finishing his MACH2. I haven't kept him in great shape, he's a little bit fat and a little bit flabby. So I was thinking about it all weekend, and I think I have decided to let him retire permanently. He has arthritis in a few of his toes, and that combined with the mild heart murmur makes me wary of taking him for the long hilly hikes I take the others on to help keep them fit. He goes for walks in our fields at home with some regularity along with "playing" agility in the home field once a week or so, but I can see now after trials that his toes hurt, and I worry that letting him run when he's not in shape will make his heart problem worse. He's had a great career - does anyone really care if he retires with 39 QQ's or 40? He's got thousands of speed points. We didn't do AKC for a long time during the middle of his career, and then we struggled with consistency for a while, and then I only did enough AKC to qualify for Nationals every year, so he is not a MACH39 or whatever high number. But he's been in AKC Finals and won the whole thing two times in a row, along with making Challenger Round the previous year. I don't really think I care if he gets that last QQ. I am already running into people who don't know who Drifter is, which kind of blows my mind since it's only been about a year since I stopped running him regularly, and not quite 2 years since he last won the National! Now I am the one who runs Kiba, or Strafe seems to be quite famous already as well. And so Drifter is most likely retired, with no fanfare, no party, no jumping up and down and screaming. What is likely his last run is mostly blurry and out of focus. But here it is anyway. Still deep in his dogwalk and aframe contacts, still pushing his see-saw to the point of flying off. He's fat, so he tried to sit on the double and knocked the bars, then he popped back out of the tunnel like "really? you really want that?" and I laughed and tossed him back in. Hard to take him seriously anymore, I call him my "fat old man" even though he isn't really that fat.

Drifters last AKC Final run - he won!
Drifter's last USDAA Final - he went off course before this obstacle!
Drifter's final international competition - WAO Biathlon Champion!

03 March 2013

Delco wrap

I came into this trial wanting to train a bit for Nationals, as this is our last trial before that event. This means I was planning a mix of proofing and pushing the dogs. For Kiba I wanted to play with my handling strategy a bit, mostly staying out of her line of sight and trying to see what she can handle regarding jumping and bars. I was pleasantly surprised by what she did - she ran 5 runs in a row with no bars! Then she hit one bar in each of her last 2 runs, so not too bad, overall. I have hope that she can continue to be successful at 16" for the one more year I had planned for her. Here are her 5 runs without bars (yes, she skipped out of the poles when I blind crossed, but that was good feedback for Nationals too, as in "don't do that with her!")

With Strafe I was really hoping to bring our Q rate back up, since that may become a factor in the choosing of the EO Team for July. However, it was just not to be. Strafe is now just about 2 and 1/2 years old, and he is fitter than ever. With his increased age and fitness and experience is coming some increased confidence, and he is now over-striding his takeoff point on some jumps. I want to make it clear that in training, he probably hits one bar per month - over maybe 5-8 training sessions. This is a dog who understands his job over the jumps, and is physically and mentally comfortable with that job - IN TRAINING. At trials he is getting excited, and getting too close to the jump, and hitting the bar. So before this weekend I made a hard decision - that I would walk him off the course if he hit a bar. Strafe has never been walked off the course before for any reason, in 14 months of showing. However, I do stop and walk off the training sequences if he hits a bar (followed by resetting it and trying again, with a big reward if he's successful), so I felt he should be able to understand what was happening.

Friday he did hit a bar in his first run, standard, and I was a little too unprepared and late marking it, so I decided to continue on that course. In JWW he knocked the front bar off the double jump and I did walk him off. He did not want to heel with me so I picked him up and carried him to his leash. Oh, the pitiful face he made! and then our 3rd run was Time 2 Beat and he ran clean! Feeling a bit bad for him, I did have one of my PT's check him out, and his pelvis was just a little bit off, so he got straightened out. Saturday he did not Q in Standard due to running behind me around a turn to find the dogwalk, but hit no bars, and in JWW he ran clean for 1st place. Sunday the nice jumping was out the window again and he hit a bar in T2B and then in Standard again, where I again carried him out. And then of course he was clean in JWW. So, I think what I will do is set up a nice jumping gymnastic sort of exercise here at home for him, with some nice varied spacing and a 180 involved, and do some runs up and down it, and really emphasize jumping performance. We will run that a few times probably tomorrow and Tuesday, and maybe one other day, but he sees the PT on Wed and I don't want to mess him up too much after that - they will be on "light duty" from then till Nationals.

Here are Strafe's 3 clean runs from the weekend. I was definitely disappointed in how our weekend went. It is hard knowing you and your dog are better than your performance, but the key is in formulating a plan to deal with it! Along with a bit of gymnastic work, I did also notice that 3 of the 4 jumps he knocked had a purple wingless standard on them. So I'm wondering if he somehow saw some sort of optical illusion with those? I don't know... he has seen them before though! I will also analyze what I was doing when he knocked the bars, to see if I can formulate a better handling plan in the future, that minimizes the chance for knocking, at least in the short term for Nationals!